Building a business
Richard explains climate and access to water were the main reasons for establishing a berry business in the Carrick area. Richard purchased a property in Carrick in 2016 along with four other investors and began to develop the property into berries. Today the property has 80 megalitres of on farm dam storage, as well as access to 80 megalitres from the Whitemore irrigation scheme plus a further 200 megalitres from the Liffey River. So far berry production on the site currently uses 80 megalitres, leaving plenty of water available at the site to support future expansion.
Richard has also put a lot of effort in building a great team which can support the business as it continues to grow. A key member of the team is Sumit Bhandari who is the Senior Agronomist. Sumit manages farm activities including pest and disease and irrigation management and has Bachelor of Biotech Engineering and a Masters of Ag Science.
Early on, Berried in Tas partnered with Perfection Fresh, who market the fruit under the ‘Perfection’ brand in Tasmania and on the mainland. Perfection also supports their growers with the latest berry varieties. The ‘Arabella’ strawberry variety was chosen because of its high brix, solid sweet fruit and high yields of around 1kg of packed fruit per plant. Berried in Tas currently produce 600 tonnes of strawberries from 8.5 hectares of tunnels. They have a further 6 hectares of field grown strawberries which were originally put in as a trial block, and Richard says he will be gradually phasing this block out with the aim to grow all fruit in tunnels.
Berried in Tas also has 9 hectares of the raspberry variety ‘Kwanza’ chosen because it is a high yielding variety with large, sweet fruit. As a primocane type, this variety produces fruit initially from March through to June and then again in December through January the following season, which enables the season to be spread over many months. The raspberries are grown in tunnels using pots with a coir substrate, with trials currently being conducted to ascertain ideal cane densities for optimum production and fruit quality. There are also plans to grow ‘Kwanza’ as a long cane raspberry to extend the season even further.
Their irrigation and dosing system provides the plants with a precise nutrient mix which can be varied throughout the growth and fruiting stages to maximise fruit quality. A close focus is kept on pest and disease management, including through the use of their beneficial insect program.
Initially Richard relied on locals and backpackers to harvest the fruit, but with the COVID-19 outbreak and labour shortages across the board he began utilising a labour hire company to provide his seasonal work force. Recently Berried in Tas became an Approved Employer with the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme and now employs directly with the program making it easier to manage labour during the season. One of the major benefits of being part of the program is that most of his picking staff are now returning each year. They bring with them the experience from the previous year and so they are already trained and therefore more productive.
Challenges and the future
For Richard COVID-19 brought many challenges. It not only affected his harvest schedule with many of his casual staff absent from time to time, but also caused logistic and transport issues. He experienced delays in receiving supplies of packaging and other inputs plus challenges in transporting fruit to markets.
Richard also cites other challenges including the continuing increase in the costs of production, driven by rising packaging, coir, fertiliser, wages and other farm input costs.
Richard remains very positive for the future, in particular about the berry category and is expanding his strawberry production operation with another 9 hectares of tunnels currently under construction.
He says the Tasmanian berry industry has a lot going for it with its long growing season, fantastic genetics, and great reputation for quality food.